Swimming With Sharks: George Huang’s First Feature, Starring Kevin Spacey and Frank Whaley

A cross between The Player and Reservoir Dogs, George Huang’s first feature, the dark comedy Swimming with Sharks (aka The Buddy Factor) focuses on the relationship between a selfishly macho executive (Kevin Spacey) and his green assistant (Frank Whaley).

A fake take on the industry, the saga concerns the venality and cynicism in contemporary Hollywood. A revenge fantasy in which a rookie holds his obnoxious boss hostage and tortures him over all the “indignities and hardships” he’s suffered.

A young film school graduate, Guy (Whaley) reels in disgust when his friends react with blankness to the mentioning of Shelley Winters. Guy landed a fast track job as assistant to high- powered production executive, Buddy Ackerman, a man known for reveling in power, women and abuse of his employees.

Guy must endure endless verbal and sometimes physical abuse, and the many scenes of Buddy grinding his assistant into the carpet have an insidious, mordant humor (enhanced by Spacey’s incisive performance). Buddy humiliate the naive Guy in front of others, forcing him to remove from local newsstands every copy of a Time issue that includes a derogatory mention of him. He also prevents him from ever taking lunch.

Guy dates an ambitious producer Dawn (Michelle Forbes), a tough cookie (the script’s least believable ploy) who does it to improve her position with Buddy so he’ll help her new project. Buddy initially responds to the script with lack of enthusiasm, but Guy is able to turn him around.

Intercut with the office action are “current” scenes in which an enraged Guy, having tied up Buddy in the latter’s house, forces him to confront his own sadism, all the while torturing him. It’s climaxed by fake, but surprise ending that does The Player one better in its take on how self-centered and insular Hollywood is. The whole point is to show Guy’s transition from gullibility to icy insider.